From firearms to bowling balls, you wouldn’t believe what Floridians try to recycle

Hillsborough County

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Many people throughout the Tampa Bay area want to do right by doing their part to recycle.

But sometimes, what people throw in their bins is just downright strange.

From diapers to tires, those at Tampa’s Waste Management Material Recovery Facility have seen it all.

The facility processes about 35 tons of recycling an hour.

“I think one of the common misconceptions that we have is that people think that just because something is plastic or just because it’s metal that they can put it in their curbside recycling bin,” explained Melissa Baldwin, Community Relations with Waste Management Recycle Tampa.

Sometimes that metal in folks’ recycling bins edges on dangerous for both the equipment and the employees of the facility.

“We actually get, more frequently than you would think, we get weapons and firearms. Whenever we receive those, we properly dispose them, we notify law enforcement and they’re properly disposed of,” Baldwin said.

She explained that not only does the facility get firearms, but they have also received grenades and dynamite.

There is a line of defense before dangerous items like guns reach the machines. All recycling goes through a “pre-sorting” process by a group of employees, but even that is not fail-proof.

Sometimes the material is too deep on the conveyor belt that they can’t always see what’s underneath.

That seems to have been the issue with a boat anchor that caused a significant incident at the facility.

“This boat anchor has a metal chain… This metal chain wrapped around the gears and because the gears are constantly spinning, you have that friction, you have heat,” Baldwin said.

“It became so hot that it was glowing red and we had to shut down this whole factory and wait for two hours just for it to cool down enough for a person to go in and safely remove the material.”

A similar issue happened when someone attempted to recycle part of their garbage disposal.

That incident resulted in a fire that spread to different parts of the conveyer belt.

Instances like this are why Baldwin and Waste Management want to educate the public on how to recycle correctly.

Baldwin wants people to focus on recycling only clean and dry paper, cardboard, bottles and cans.

She said if you’re in doubt about whether something can be recycled or not, just throw it out.

“Recycle only clean and dry and loose paper, cardboard, bottles and cans. Just focus on those things and you can feel good about knowing that you’re recycling right and doing your part to make the environment a better place,” Baldwin said.

To learn more about how safely recycle and what can actually go in your recycling bin, visit

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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